Ms.pegasus's Reviews > The Chalk Girl

The Chalk Girl by Carol O'Connell
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May 27, 12

bookshelves: suspense, fiction
Read in May, 2012

The brittle prose and unlikeable heroine are at first off-putting. Yet, the creepy memories of childhood-robbing trauma and present-day series of grisly crimes hold the reader in the grip of an awful attraction. The heroine, Kathy Mallory -- usually referred to as simply “Mallory” – could the author have conceived of a more unfeminine means of reference? – is appearing in her 10th book, so it is a bit unfair to be critical of her. This is my first encounter either with the author or her character. Mallory's past and her relationship to numerous secondary characters such as her partner Riker, the self-effacing and (of course) brilliant psychologist Charles Butler, police lieutenant Jack Coffey, and chief medical examiner Edward Slope are briefly alluded to but have obviously been firmly established in past books.

The subject of unlikeable heroines is particularly relevant. Mallory is portrayed as a sociopath who is incapable of forming intimate human attachments, quick to take offense, and patient in the cultivation of retribution. The part of the human psyche she does understand is greed. From appraising the environs of a crime suspect (“All of this she saw with a cost accountant's eye.”) to the actual interview (Mallory moved on to her favorite subject, 'Let's talk money....'”), she is relentless. The author provides conversation interspersed with 3rd person narrative that shifts abruptly from character to character's viewpoint. In this way, she controls the reader's reactions. At times, the constant shifts can be confusing. The author/narrator seems to interrupt the ruminations of her characters. We assume these interruptions are reliable, but sometimes, they are not. However, for the most part, it is a skillful deployment of the technique of the unreliable narrator. Thus, we accept Mallory's short-comings, and then listen to Charles' second thoughts: The tantalizing inference that Mallory might be capable of greater humanity than we have been led to believe.

The strength of this book is the plot. In addition to the macabre crimes enumerated, there is a thread of official corruption which make this book interesting and potentially cinematic. Horrific suspense is not my usual genre, but I'd be interested in reading another of the “Mallory” series – particularly the initial books of the series.
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